Chapter 1: From Helheim's Heart
Putrid emerald and black smoke claws and spills outwards, bleeding into the frigid air of the mountain's peak as a figure steps forth from the foul smelling portal. The woman twists her neck from side to side like a serpent, muscles stiff from disuse, her ice blue eyes framed by ashen war paint narrow and survey the area. Though it has been many summers since she last laid her stinging eyes on the sunset view she recalls it instantly.
"Vanaheim." She murmurs slowly in a rough and raspy tone, features pinched as the syllables catch and pain her throat.
An icy wind cuts through the woman deeply, the torn and frayed leather armour doing little to shield her from the winter air, and she shivers violently as her tangled inky black hair is whipped around her face, stinging her eyes. Peering through the curtain of hair, the woman spies a village in the foothills of the mountain, grimacing in frustration as she realises her conundrum and slowly begins her climb towards the only help she is likely to find.
It is dark by the time the woman stumbles into the village, her legs finally giving out and she collapses into a snowdrift; her lips tinted blue, cheeks raw and red and a fine layer of ice and snow cover her shivering form. Still she tries to crawl closer, black claw-like nails digging into the icy cold snow, dragging her exhausted body forward. Too cold and too unused to talking to be able to call for help from the few villagers still outside, a young man and old woman the closest to her but soon moving away.
"Kari! Best come inside now, son, before-" The old woman trails off, cupping her wisened hands around her eyes as she peers into the darkness. "Kari!" She repeats more urgently, gaining the attention of the young man who hurries to her side, grasping her elbow in his broad palm.
"Grandmother, what is it? Are you well?" The young man, Kari, asks hurriedly, checking over the old woman who rebuffs him with a smack to his chest, the blow softened by his thick winter garb.
"Not me, boy, look!" Not waiting for her grandson to notice, the old woman marches determinedly into the night, Kari following close on her heels with a torch hastily retrieved from the fire pit.
"Grandmother...Is it?" Kari pauses, craning his neck to better observe the creature struggling in the snow.
"SHE is quite alive, boy." The old woman responds. "But she won't be for long if you don't stop lollygagging. Get a blanket."
Kari jumps then, startled into action. "Right, yes, of course!" He squeaks, casting a quick look at the stranger in black and his grandmother, deciding there was no threat from the stranger before disappearing into a house.
The old woman turns her attention back to the unexpected arrival, carefully sweeping the snow encrusted hair from the side of their face she could see. "Hold on there." She croons lowly, noticing the tension in the thin frame. "Don't you worry now, you're among friends. We'll get you fixed up right as rain again in no time."
The woman doesn't respond, too cold and too tired to attempt a task as difficult as speaking, curling further into herself as her shivering grows more violent, teeth loudly clashing together.
"There you are Kari, gently now." The old woman ushers, stepping back as her grandson uses the blanket as a shovel and scoops the balled up woman out of the snow and into his arms.
"She's cold as ice, grandmother. Do you think she got lost in the woods?" Kari ponders, waiting to move as his grandmother tucks the blanket securely around the woman.
"Ain't no doubt about it boy, these rags she's wearing ain't from around here." The old woman answers and leads the trio into her house, shutting the door firmly behind them, gesturing to her grandson to put the woman down. "Not too close now, don't want her to die of shock." She murmurs, pouring some warm water into a wooden bowl.
Kari nods, gently placing the woman down on her side on a bear skin rug back a bit from the roaring hearth central to the main room.
"Good job son, why don't you go find our guest something of your sister's to wear? This stuff ain't gonna do nothing but keep her cold." She sniffs, pucking at a loose string and setting the wooden bowl down by her side, not looking up as Kari leaves them alone. Dipping a linen cloth into the bowl, she soaks it and carefully starts cleaning the ice and snow from the woman's hands. Taking care to be gentle around the cuts she can now see. "You're not from around here are you. Folk round here know you'd have to be out of your mind to be running around in these mountains this time of year."
The woman manages to shake her head, the rough bristles of the bear fur scraping against the wind burn on her exposed skin, opening her mouth to attempt to speak she wheezes before the old woman clamps a hand over her mouth.
"Don't you go wasting your strength now, you're lucky you stumbled by when you did." The old woman mutters, moving on to clean the woman's face and hair, dampening the hair enough so she can run an engraved bone comb through the tangled mane. "I'm Gudrid and you already met Kari. Just relax and let us take care of you now. There'll be plenty of time for questions and answers in the morning when you're feeling better."
The woman manages to nod, soothed by the gentle tugging of the comb, unable to remember the last time someone had treated her with such kindness. A cold hand reaches out and squeezes gently on the bony wrist of Gudrid, hoping to convey her thanks.
"Ain't nothing, why don't you get some rest? You must be tired. Go on now." Gudrid encourages, humming a soft lullaby under her breath, her seidr infusing the words and coaxing the woman to her rest. "Poor thing, what trouble are you running from?"
That night the woman dreams; scenes of carnage and mayhem, blood and tears and of two screaming voices, a man's and a girl's, fury and heartbreak in kind. The clash of wood on metal tears the woman from her night time purgatory and thrusts her into the light of day; startled awake and up as she frantically takes in her surroundings. Her heart still hammering hard in her chest she locks eyes with Gudrid, the other's apologetic as she gestures to the stove.
"Sorry 'bout that. Weren't trying to wake you, Princess."
The woman rubs her eyes with the back of her hand, working the knuckles against her eyes and croaks out. "Princess?"
Gudrid smiles kindly. "You don't think I'd ever forget you, did ya? I remember watching over you when you were little, you've grown up since then sure, but I knew it as soon as I'd cleaned the snow out of your hair and off your face. It really is you." Concern colours her expression then. "What happened to you, Princess? How'd you end up out here?"
"Princess?" Blurts out Kari, staring at the half naked woman still crouched under the blanket. "Grandmother, there isn't a Vanir princess."
Gudrid shoots him an irritated look, swatting at him with a tea towel. "I know that boy!" She snaps before continuing on in a gentler tone. "This girl is an Aesir princess, and I'd know that face anywhere, this here is the crown princess, the Allfather and Allmother's daughter. You should know that, you've been to Asgard this past year back."
Kari rubs the back of his head, ruffling ginger curls. "Grandmother, I'm sorry to tell you, but the Allfather doesn't have a daughter. He just has two sons, the princes Thor and Loki. Remember how Prince Thor was gonna be crowned king?"
Gudrid furrows her brow in confusion and looks to the woman. "Oh Hela, what happened?"
Hela tugs the blanket more firmly around her body, summoning her strength and fighting through the pain in her throat. "Father...Didn't need...weapon." With that her words dissolve into a coughing fit, hunching over and flinching in surprise as a wrinkled hand cups her chin and tilts her head up, skinny arms enveloping her in a hug. The act alone enough to move Hela to tears, the salty liquid spilling down her cheeks and into the fur lining of Gudrid's coat.
"Shh, don't you cry now, princess." Gudrid murmurs softly stroking Hela's dark hair in a gesture of comfort. "Where have you been all this time? You can't have been in the mountains."
Choking back a sob, Hela clings to the comforting embrace, not wanting the embrace to end so soon, not after going centuries untouched by another. "Hel...Helheim."
Gudrid stiffens, fury evident in her straightened spine and white knuckles. "That son of a draugr."
"Grandmother!" Kari cries, agast at her tone and words. "The Allfather is king of the nine realms!"
"Ain't no king of mine who throws his baby girl into that pit! Don't you worry, sweetling, Gudrid is gonna take care of you. Just like I did before."
Hela nods slowly, swallowing heavily. "Will..." She coughs again, gritting her teeth, needing to be heard, needing the answer. "Mother? Father?"
Gudrid and Kari fall silent, an awkward pause to be certain before Gudrid nods slowly, pressing a light kiss to Hela's pink brow. "No, princess, we won't tell 'em you're free. Right Kari?" She says with a pointed look, Kari nodding and with a fleeting smile.
"Yeah, no one will hear about it from us." Kari assures her and then thinks rather dryly. "No one would believe us anyway. There has never been a mention of a princess, not a living one anyway. Wonder if she's the same one?" "I, er, got you some clothes, princess." He offers lamely, gesturing to the pile of hide and fur by the wooden log wall.
Gudrid nods encouragingly, patting Hela's back briskly and wiping her cheeks clean of tears with the roughened pads of her thumbs. "Change of clothes will do you good, princess, go on now and get yourself cleaned up." Standing she attempts to pull Hela to her feet when Kari is suddenly by her side, brushing her hands away and helping Hela up himself.
Shooting his grandmother an irritated look he wraps a strong arm around Hela's waist, holding her up seeing her own legs were shaking. "You're not supposed to be lifting heavy things, Grandmother! Father will be cross with you when he comes back."
"Shush now, boy, I've been doing fine on my own." Gudrid scolds, crossing her arms over her chest and continues back to the kitchen. "You just get the princess into that bath I've set up, can't imagine the last time she's had a good wash."
The tips of Kari's ear turn pink with embarrassment, hissing out between his teeth. "Grandmother!"
"What? I didn't say help her wash, just get her in there. I'm sure the princess knows how to clean her own back." Gudrid scolds, waving her wooden ladle at them dismissively.
Hela leans weakly against Kari, not seeming to mind as he just scoops her up into his arms instead, carrying her into the bathroom and setting her down on the tub. As Kari flits around the room, presumably getting last minute things ready for her, Hela shuffles towards the mirror, bare feet dragging and scuffing against the wooden flood. Eyes wide in surprise she raises a shaking hand to her face, prodding the sunken and wane skin of her cheek in horror, tracing over some of the thick, ebony veins running over her temples and down the back of her neck, like ink, to spill over her shoulders to her collarbones.
This was not what she remembered seeing in the mirror as her handmaidens did her hair, the reflection in the ocean as she and Brunhilde frollicked on the beach and the light in Fenris' sweet eyes when she snuck him into her bed at night. That girl didn’t look like a shambling corpse, kept moving by spite and venom.
"No." Hela cries out softly, hands cupping over her mouth, the thing looking back at her was more a monster than the girl she remembered. The creature her friends saw as they rode atop their winged steed to Helheim to force her back into her prison; the one her mother said was consuming her, mistaking her intentions for that of greed and a lust for power and; worse still, the one her, once beloved, father spat curses and abuse at as he hurled her into the abyssal maw of Helheim, uncaring of her pleas as he sealed up what he determined to be dead to him in what he intended to be her tomb.
Kari is by her side in an instant, carefully clasping her elbow and turning her away from the offending polished surface. "Don't worry about that, Grandmother will have you looking like yourself again in no time." Lightly he nudges her towards the bathtub and, as though an afterthought, covers the mirror with a spare towel.
Hela nods slowly, the curtain of her hair hiding her features from Kari's concerned gaze as she reaches for the ties holding her armour together, beginning to remove it, uncaring of his presence.
A very un-manly squeak causes her lips to twitch upwards, pausing in taking off her bodice as Kari rushes from the room.
"I'd better go see if Grandmother needs any help!"
Hela's bony shoulders shrug the bodice to the floor as she continues with her task, looking over her body properly for the first time in eons, surprised to find the only damage on it is from her trek down the mountainside and nothing from Helheim itself. The black spider webbing veins hardly able to be considered to be damage. Skin pebbling with goosebumps Hela steps into the warm water, sitting down with her spine pressed against the smooth edge of the bathtub, tucking her knees to her chest as her hair fans out on the water's surface. The water does its job slowly, warming her aching muscles and bones, as she sits, staring at her new reflection and carefully starts cleaning the stench of the dead and long forgotten from her skin.
Skin soft and flushed pink, Hela makes her way back into the kitchen and main living area of Gudrid's house, now dressed in the garb of the mountain dwelling Vanir, her wet hair pulled back from her face in a messy knot. Unceremoniously she finds a bowl of fragrant stew and sweet mead shoved into her hands by Gudrid. The old woman guiding Hela to sit at the table, hands swiftly undoing the mess she had made of her hair.
Tutting softly Gudrid shakes her head. "If you wanted your hair put back all you had to do was ask, Princess." Picking up the bone comb she runs it gently through Hela's hair, separating it and beginning to braid her hair in the Vanir style. "This black hair won’t do, ain’t no one up here with that Aesir colour - could always change it I suppose." With each swipe of her comb blonde begins to bleed into the inky black strands. “What do you think?”
Kari snorts with derision. “Sure Grandmother, that is if you want the spitting image of Frigga walking around our mountain.”
Gudrid frowns but conceads her grandson’s point. “Better a brunette then. Now, Princess, I know the style ain't what you're used to, but we can't have you sticking out like you don't belong here. So don’t be making your hair into that horned helmet of yours.”
Hela nods, still mindful of her throat, sipping on the cool mead, closing her eyes with relief as her raw throat is immediately soothed, never having imagined she would know the taste of food or drink again. Swirling her spoon lazily through the stew Hela scoops up some meat and vegetables, grimacing as she takes a tentative sip, her stomach cramping rebelliously. Her spine stiffening, Hela gnaws on her lower lip, worried that Gudrid would take offense if she didn't eat it all.
As if able to read her mind Gudrid pipes up. "Just take it slow now, no rush to finish." Her nimble fingers tying off the tail of Hela's braid, letting it fall down her back. "You always did have such beautiful, thick hair." She murmurs softly, giving the top of Hela's head a pat before she shifts away to top up her's and Kari's mead.
"Thanks Grandmother. What are you and the princess gonna do today? It’s gonna be real cold again." Kari asks, stein halfway to his mouth, eyes inquisitive.
"Don't you worry, Kari, I won't work her too hard." Gudrid turns her head to address Hela then. "It will still do you good to get outside and breath in the good air, Princess. You've been cooped up for far too long."
Hela's tongue darts out of her mouth, sweeping across her lips to clean them of stew, taking the time to ready her voice. "Yes," She begins, still croaky, but at least not hurting her now. "It would be nice to see the sky again."
Gudrid smiles encouraged by the sight of the princess looking brighter and talking. "We can do that, princess. But if you don't mind could you help me with some chores? Kari here doesn't trust me not to go lifting heavy things."
"Because you keep doing it, Grandmother!" Kari exclaims with frustration, rubbing his forehead with his palm.
Hela smiles gently, inclining her head. "I will help you." Grunting once as she clears her throat, brows knitting together before smoothing once more. "It's the least I can do."
Finishing his stew, Kari jabs his spoon in Hela's direction. "You know, Grandmother, you can't go around the village calling the princess, princess. Bit of a give away that you're hiding someone who's not meant to be found."
Nodding her head Gudrid gives Hela the once over, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "Neither can we call her by her name. Who's to say who else remembers the prin-girl from her soldier days."
Hela looks between them both, confused by this turn of events, a small frown taking over her face. "And what would you call me?"
"Hlif, I reckon its close enough to Hela for you not to muck it up and blow your own cover." Gudrid adds dryly. "It's a common enough name round these parts, I ain't ever heard no one else naming their girl Hela."
Setting her spoon down Hela adds shortly. "I'm not a fool, Gudrid, I can respond to a different name." She pauses to cough into her fist. "You don't have to worry, I haven't been called 'Princess' in a long time, let alone 'Hela'."
"Fantastic!" Crows Kari with glee, clapping his hands together, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb. "I'm gonna go get started now, Grandmother. I'll see you and Hlif later." He nods with a grin in Hela's direction, strapping his blade to his belt and striding out into the snow.
Hela glances over at Gudrid, leaning her chin on her palm. "What chores did you want me to do, Gudrid?" She lifts her stein, taking another swallow of the mead, clearing her throat.
"I think you'll like it now you are dressed for it. I need you to go hunting for me. Kari doesn't have the time at the moment." Gudrid looks her over. "I doubt you know anything about how to actually prepare a carcass but that's why you're the muscle."
Pouting from having being found wanting, Hela wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, eager to get out and stretch her legs. "I'll go now then." Adding when Gudrid raises a sceptical eyebrow. "I can do it."
"Not like that you can't. You need weapons."
Hela lets out a rasping laugh at that. "I don't need weapons." Flicking her wrist and summoning a small, obsidian dagger from her palm.
"What are you doing?" Hela exclaims sharply, reabsorbing the dagger into her palm, flexing her fingers. "What else am I-"
"You're Hlif now, not Hela, unless you like the idea of being tossed back in that box you best grow a brain in that pretty head right quick!" Gudrid scolds and pokes Hela sharply on her forehead.
"Ow! Fine, do you have a bow or something?" Hela grumbles, rubbing the still sensitive skin, checking for blood on her fingertips.
"Now you're thinking!" Gudrid praises, going to a table in the corner and selecting a bow and stocked quiver for Hela. "Here you are now. Oh, before I forget." She unties her own dagger from her belt and attaches it to the one around Hela's waist. "You might need it."
Hela smiles slightly, adjusting Gudrid’s scarf for her. “Don’t worry, I’ll be alright.”
Gudrid nods, opening the heavy wooden door for Hela. “Just don’t go doing something god-like and you will be, Hlif. Bye bye now.”
The door shuts abruptly in her face, Hela jumping slightly before spinning on her heel, surveying the land before her, trying to remember where she was in relation to landmarks. Her task made difficult by the thick blanket of white snow in every direction, before picking a direction at random and heading off into the dense, snow covered trees.
Blood flows steadily from the deep puncture wound in the buck’s neck, staining the purity of the snow surrounding its body and the knees of Hela’s furs a deep red. Gently sliding the knife free of its sheath in the animal’s neck, Hela murmurs softly to the dying animal, petting the straining cords of muscle in its neck, attempting to bring him comfort in his final moments, despite the potential danger of the thick and long antlers adorning the buck’s head.
Hela observes death with a keen eye as the puffs of warm air from the buck’s lungs cease appearing in the cold air of the forest. She slides her palm down the still warm flanks, making sure the animal was dead, before cleaning off her blade on the meat of her thigh, deciding that Gudrid was already going to be cross with her for getting caught in an arterial spray so a little more blood couldn’t make the scolding worse. Rubbing her cold nose with the back of her hand, further smearing the blood on her face, Hela sets her bow down beside her, yanking free the arrow from the buck’s heart and putting it back in her quiver before shifting the beast’s limbs in preparation for transportation. Retrieving a spool of rope from around the quiver, Hela begins to knot it around the buck’s head, the rope sitting just under its neck, certain this would look believable when she dragged the creature back to the village and seeing no other viable way of moving it. Hela wraps the other end around her fist, retrieving her bow from where it lay and begins her slow trek back to the village.
Straining against the weight of the buck, Hela finally exits the tree line, leaning against the rough bark of a tree trunk as she catches her breath, disturbed by her own weakness, having never even considered her current situation as a possibility, her mind purely focused on escaping Helheim.
“Hlif!” Calls out a familiar, deep voice. Looking up at the crest of a small hill, Hela spies Kari and another man about his age waving down at her. Hela only able to flap her arm weakly in their general direction in response, muscles trembling and weakened from her long trek back to the village.
Kari and the other man pick their way carefully down the slope, Kari taking the rope out of Hela’s hand and dropping it in a loose coil on the snow by their feet. “Great work there! You must be tired after dragging that beast back!”
Hela nods her head, scrunching her nose up, irritated by the blood freezing on her cheeks. “In hindsight I shouldn’t have picked one that was so big so far away.”She stumbles as Kari claps a hand on her shoulder.
“Ah not to worry, Vestein and I can take it from here. You’d probably like to go get cleaned up, Hlif, you look like you rolled in blood.”
“I wasn’t paying close enough attention when I put it down and-.” She cuts herself off, gesturing instead to demonstrate the way the blood had squirted in her face and over her clothes, much to Kari and Vestein’s amusement.
“Not used to hunting then are ya?” Asks Vestein in a light tone, taking the rear legs of the buck in his hands, preparing to lift the creature with Kari’s help.
Hela shakes her head in the negative. “Not for a long time now, I forgot about the-”
“Blood bath?” Kari adds with a cheeky grin, earning himself a glare from Hela.
“You’re not funny.” She deadpans, pushing off the tree as the men lift the buck between them.
“I’ve been telling him so for years, Hlif, Kari ain’t gonna listen.” Vestein adds and huffs. “Now hurry up and move it, Kari, this thing is heavy!”
“Yeah, yeah.” Kari mutters and starts up the hill, Hela trailing behind the two of them, scooping up the tail of the rope, to keep Vestein from tripping on it, and following along as they approach a hut with a tall plume of smoke rising from its chimney, presumably where Gudrid is waiting for them to begin the task of preparing the carcass.
“You don’t disappoint do you, Hlif.” Gudrid says with a proud smile, Hela standing a little taller at the praise, as she rises from her seat and crosses to caress Hela’s cheek, pausing halfway, her brow knitted in disgust. “Hlif! What in blazes have you being doing, girl! I asked you to go hunting, not take a wash in it!”
Hela ducks her head, visibly deflating and avoiding looking at her elder in the eyes, rubbing the back of her neck. “I’ll be more careful next time.”
“Norns, girl, you done made quite the mess!” Gudrid begins but then softens her tone as her beady eyes take in Hela’s shame. “But you’re efficient I’ll give you that.” She finishes kindly and moves away to examine the buck more closely. “That one will last us a good long while. Now go on and clean yourself up before that muck sticks to your face.” Her pointer finger wagging in Hela’s face.
Nodding quickly, Hela makes her way back to the bucket Vestein helpfully points out to her, dipping her hands into the freezing water and quickly scrubs her face of the blood. Her teeth chattering as the icy water runs over her jaw and into the lining of her furs.
‘Norns, I pray I can get used to this blasted cold!’ Hela thinks miserably, rubbing a dry portion of her fur against her neck, soaking up the remaining droplets Hela takes the moment to gaze at her reflection in the billowing surface of the bucket. Chilled fingertips prod at her pale cheek once more, lips splitting into a wide smile as she finds that her skin, while still as pale as ever, was beginning to look less waxen. A good sign, if nothing else, that her misadventure on the mountain’s peak hadn’t caused her permanent damage. Even if the weakness that has wormed its way into her very bones was showing little improvement.
Fear was not something Hela would ever admit to, but even she cannot deny that the sheer lack of strength was of great concern to her. How would she be able to reclaim her throne from her usurper brothers if she no longer possessed the might that once made her able to massacre entire armies single handedly? If her brothers’ strength rivaled her own in her prime then Hela knew she would see the inside of a cage once more - if she was lucky, her heart clenching tight in her chest in response to the thought.
Clenching her fists, Hela takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself down. “I won’t go back, I won’t.” She murmurs, voice somewhat shaky, reassuring herself as she clings to her own arms, rubbing the fur between her fingers. Grimacing when her fingers come away damp with blood and she dips them into the bucket, swirling red trails in the water and considering her next move.
‘If I couldn’t handle dragging a deer back to the village, I have no hope of taking back my kingdom, let alone making it to the bifrost site in this weather.’ She sighs and dips her head, rubbing a hand over her mouth. ‘Hopefully Gudrid will allow me to stay with her until I am strong enough to make it to Asgard.’
“Come on slowpoke!” Gudrid calls out, shattering Hela’s reviere as she perks up and cranes her neck to see she’s being waved over. “Bet you’re hungry right?”
Hela nods and stands up, brushing flakes of snow off her knees and shins, making her way back over to Gudrid and taking a lump of meat from her bony hand. Her face screwing up with disgust as she realises what it is.
“You want me to eat this?” Hela asks, rolling the offending item around her hands.
Gudrid nods her head, sweeping a clump of grey hair back under her scarf. “Ain’t your mama ever given you a heart to eat, Hlif?”
“Not bloody.” Hela grumbles and curls her lips back, bearing her teeth in a grimace.
“It’s good for you child, eat up now.” Gudrid urges and with a pointed look. “Don’t you want to get your strength back?”
Resisting the urge to complain further, Hela sighs, realising it is the same as when Gudrid was watching her as an actual child; there was no point in arguing with her. Bringing the heart up to her mouth and taking a large bite of it, Hela’s face screws up as the congealing blood hits her tongue with a squelch. ‘Ew.’ Hela thinks while chewing the springy meat, steeling herself to swallow. ‘Come on, come on, come on. Don’t be a wimp. I’ve eaten the flesh of the dead and drank from stagnant ponds in Helheim, this is nothing!’ She chants, wishing her cramping stomach would agree, and forces the meat down her throat, the chunk catching momentarily, Hela’s eyes watering, before it slides down.
“Like it, Hilf?” Kari says and shoots her, what can only be described as, a shit eating grin.
Hela pauses before responding. “Sure…it’s not like eating old, rust flavoured goo at all.”
Kari snorts. “You know you don’t have to eat it raw right? Grandmother is just messing with you.”
“What?” Hela barks out, glaring at Gudrid and swiping over her lips with her, no longer, clean cuff. “Ugh! I’ll never get this taste out of my mouth!” She gripes, flicking the heart down on the nearby table with a wet squelching noise and a look of distaste. Her cheeks heating up as she crosses her arms over her chest petulantly, side eyeing Gudrid in front of her. “It’s not funny, Gudrid!”
“Yes, yes it is!” Gudrid cackles, practically doubling over with laughter, clutching her stomach with one hand as the other swipes at a few stray tears running down her cheeks. “By the Norns! I can’t believe you went and took a bite outta it.”
“You told me to!” Hela protests, grumpily knocking over a small pile of snow by the table leg, kicking her foot to dislodge the melting mess from her boot.
“Yeah, yeah.” The old woman chortles, despite Hela’s glare, patting the younger on the shoulder. “Quit your belly-aching and come learn a thing or two. Norns know you need it.”
Clean of blood and fresh faced, Hela prepares her spot by the fire to sleep. Still unused to Vanaheim’s winters, her skin pebbles with goosebumps while her hands smooth down the furs her improvised bed is made up of.
Her fussing is interrupted by Gudrid kneeling down beside her on the wooden floor, an iron poker in hand, coaxing more heat from the fire. Fascinated Hela observes the way Gudrid doesn’t just jab artlessly at the wood but creates pockets of air and breaks down the ashen logs on the top while preserving the integrity of the lower ones. Just one more thing she has been exposed to in the village, truly showing, to her shame, how completely dependent she is on the people around her. Having never acknowledged this fact, or even been aware of it, before her imprisonment.
“I really am useless without a horde of servants to cater to my every whim.” Hela mutters, keeping her gaze on the fire, rather than Gudrid, her jaw tight. Feeling a bony knuckle chuff her on the jaw, she glances up, surprised, and yet really shouldn’t be, by the understanding in Gudrid’s eyes.
“Ain’t your fault, little one, you’re learning now, that’s all that matters. I’ll be making sure the sacrifice to the Norns is a larger one now.” She says so matter a factly that Hela looks at her in shock.
“Why would you do that?”
“They worked the threads to bring you back to me when you needed help the most. I know you’re a smart girl, princess, you know if you didn’t find this village when you did then you wouldn’t be with us no more.” Gudrid’s roughened palm lightly strokes Hela’s unbound hair. “We need to give thanks for what they did to help you.”
“And,” Hela begins hesitantly. “And how would you thank them for that?”
The old woman looks at her in surprise. “Ain’t you never done a sacrifice before? Surely your father would have done ‘em before the armies left for battle.”
Hela gnaws on her lower lip. “Not that I recall, Father always said with Death as his weapon, how could he lose?”
Huffing a breath through her nose Gudrid shakes her head with exasperation. “Course he did. Well, Death or not, you’re gonna be adding ‘How to give thanks’ to the list of things you’re gonna know before you leave.” Wriggling her fingers in a ‘gimme’ gesture she takes the leather hair ties from Hela’s palm. “Now, you’re ready for your next lesson right?”
Hela nods, shifting on her knees into a straighter posture, determined to get this one right.
“Alright, now when braiding your hair first you gotta…”
Scrunching up her face, Hela swats at the irritant tugging at the end of her, now mussed, braid and covers her face with her arms. “Five more minutes, Mother.” She mumbles, trying to block out the light from the fire by curling up into a ball and yanking her furs over her head.
“Up ya get, lazy bones. No time for sleeping in, you’ve got work that needs doing.” Gudrid chirps in a tone far too cheerful for Hela’s liking, swiftly tugging on the exposed portions of Hela’s hair, like a bird snatching up worms.
Letting out a long suffering sigh, Hela crawls out of her nest of blankets, rubbing her head and fluffing up her hair further as she turns an ineffective glare onto her tormentor.
“Good to see some things haven’t changed. You always did have a mean bed head.” Gudrid ruffles the dark mess. “Do your hair and splash some water on your face. You and Kari are doing the heavy lifting.”
“Hooray.” Hela mutters mutinously, ducking quickly as Gudrid snaps a cloth at her and scampers into the bathroom. Rubbing her eyes tiredly, Hela slowly undoes her ruined braid and starts the process of redoing it in the style Gudrid taught her the night before, taking the time to make sure it was tight. As a final effort to look presentable Hela dips her fingers into the bowl of water in front of her, tucking the wispy strands of black hair hanging by her ears behind them, slicking them down with dampened fingertips.
As a final check, Hela runs her fingertips over the bumps of the braid, careful of her sharp nails as she does so, feeling no small measure of pride for her success. Once satisfied with the integrity of her work, Hela cups her hands and lowers them into the bowl of water, washing her face and then drying off her hands.
While exiting the bathroom, Hela wriggles her fingers into a pair of thick gloves, tugging her coat closed and steels herself before going outside. A cold blast of wind hits her right in the face, stinging her eyes and leaving her disoriented for a moment. It is in this moment that Kari then chooses to unceremoniously shove a handful of jerky against her chest, Hela grabbing it hurriedly before it drops onto the snow.
“Breakfast.” He says with a cheerful grin, it widening at her blank look. “Not a morning person are you, Hlif?”
Shaking her head, Hela takes a bite of the dried meat. “Never felt the need to get up this early before.”
“Imagine it must be nice to be able to lay about in bed all morning.” He comments lightly with a shrug of one shoulder before clapping an arm around hers. “Sadly for us, dear sister, Grandmother is taking advantage of the two of us being here.” Kari then retrieves two hatchets leaning against the wooden house, tucking one into his belt and holding the other in his free hand.
“No need to tell me, I remember when I was a child she would use me as a pack mule to carry books for her.” Hela says wryly, taking the hatchet from Kari’s hand and starts picking her way carefully down the side of the hill as they come to the forest’s edge.
Kari snorts with amusement. “Oh yes, it must have been horrendous. How many did she make you carry - three?”
“For your information there was four books and really they were tomes, so they were quite heavy!” Hela huffs, resisting the childish urge to pick Kari up by the collar of his coat and hurl him down the hill into a snow drift.
Howling with laughter Kari stumbles a bit down the hill, coming to a stop at a tree with a big X over the trunk at head height. “Those dainty hands not used to it, eh, Hlif?”
“I was only three years old I’ll have you know!” Hela growls, stomping down the hill, gesturing with the axe in hand.
Chortling Kari composes himself, tapping Hela on the shoulder. “Sorry, sorry, just funny to imagine you so tiny and struggling under the weight of books.” He clears his throat, pointing at the tree. “Right, well, Grandmother wants us to cut down some trees for logging today. There was some damage about a month ago, but well it wasn’t an urgent thing to fix and now you get the joy of splinters.” He grins, pointing at a spot to for her to stand in.
Only rolling her eyes in response, Hela places her hands on her hips, flicking her braid nonchalantly over her shoulder and watches Kari work, oddly fascinated due to never having seen an axe embedded in anything other than a man’s torso before.
As it turns out the novelty of watching a tree being cut down loses its charm after the fifth time, Hela sitting somewhat slumped on one of the fallen logs, amusing herself with carving runes into one of the sticks she had severed from the trunks of the logs.
Blowing an errant piece of hair out of her face she asks in a petulant tone. “Are you nearly done now?”
Kari pauses to brush wood pulp from his somewhat matted down curls. “Yes, Mother . By the Norns you’re worse than a child, Hlif.”
“Easy for you to say when you have something to do,” Hela huffs. “I’ve been sitting her for hours just watching you.”
“How dare you. I am fascinating, I’ll have you know, and after you nearly chopped my leg off then you’re damn right you’re just going to sit there and wait for me to be done.”
“Come on, you’re fine! It was only a tiny amount of blood anyway, don’t be dramatic.” She lifts her legs out of the snow, kicking a bit at him as she rolls to lie on her back on her seat.
“Wha- It was not tiny! Any higher and you would have unsexed me.” Kari says, grimacing as the snow lands on his pant leg, brushing it off with the back of his hand before chopping the final chunk of wood out of the tree, stepping back as it falls and waiting until it is prone before beginning to chop off the heavier branches.
Sitting up to help, Hela’s spine suddenly stiffens, her head cocking like a dog’s as she focuses. “Did you hear that?” She asks, jumping to her feet, brows knitting together in a frown.
“Can’t hear anything.” Kari replies after a moment of silence. “...wait.” He adds and then turns to Hela, only to find her meters away, already scrambling back up the hill they had come down, feet and hands clawing at the snow as she runs. “Hey! Where are you going? Hlif!” He calls only to receive no answer, abandoning his task and hurrying after her.
Hela doesn’t slow her pace, pushing past the stinging protests of her unprepared muscles because she knows what this is; the noise even more familiar to her now then even her mother’s voice, the ringing thwack of iron on iron making her certain as the pain filled and terrified screams finally reach her ears - death . Gudrid’s people were dying...
Thank you to everyone who left a comment or kudos, you guys really made my day when I could see people like this. Just encourages me more to keep pumping out these chapters for you to enjoy. :D
Chapter 3: Jormungandr
‘Faster! Faster! Faster!’ Hela chants to herself, blue eyes wide with fear and concern, heedless to the occasional branch striking her across the face and snagging her hair as she runs towards the cries of the villagers. Her entrance to the village is less than desirable, the sight that greets her horrific - huts burn and spew black, choking smoke into the air, the bodies of the dead and dying lay haphazardly where they fell as their bodies leaking blood and viscera onto the snow and something within Hela just snaps.
These were the people who took her in, ignorant of who she was and equally uncaring, they were good and kind and they were dying. ‘But I am Death.’ Hela thinks, narrowing her eyes. ‘I will not take them.’ And with that hurls her hatchet at the closest marauder, the sharp blade digging into his temple with a wet thunk as he drops to the ground dead and the villager he was fighting quickly scrambles away.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately depending on one’s position in the battle, the swift execution draws the attention of three other marauders, the men deciding that a skinny woman wouldn’t be an issue for them to subdue.
“Yer gonna regret that, girly!” The red-bearded one spits out, hefting his broad axe in his meaty hands.
A smaller bald one looks her over with a look that, instinctually, causes Hela’s skin to crawl and a tiny voice in the back of her head is telling her to run from that one. “Come here pretty one, you ain’t got no weapons. Be a good girl now and maybe we won’t kill ya once we had our fun!” He grins, showing a mouth full of rotting teeth.
Hela shudders, swallowing around a lump in her throat, fists clenching around nothing as the two advance on her, while the third, silent man, hangs back and starts to circle her. Breathing through her nose, Hela wills herself to calm down, knowing her hatchet is too far away to be of any use to her and she can only depend on her own gifts to survive this.
Concentrating Hela flexes her palms, fingers wriggling as she drops into a fighting stance, and focuses her power, twin necroswords sliding from her palms. She grips the pommels, comforted by the weight of the swords and delighted by the fear and surprise in the mauraders’ eyes. Not giving them a chance to recover Hela spins, hurling once of her blades through the air, the obsidian weapon striking true and sticking out proudly from the chest of the one who was circling her.
With a scream the smaller, bald man charges her, swinging his sword down, Hela raising her remaining one to parry him, lashing out with her other hand, a dagger answering her call, as she stabs him, wrenching the blade through the man’s stomach, causing his guts to spill onto the snow. For effect more than anything, Hela lops the man’s head off with her sword, kicking the torso away from her and stalks menacingly towards the third man.
His eyes betray his stance, the orbs clouded with fear, rendering him unable to do much else other than wait for death. Hela takes the moment to run her palms over her hair, out of habit, using her seidr to transform it into her antlered helmet, the weight of it comforting upon her head and she gives a wolfish grin as the man freezes, his weapon lowering in his hand as he mutters.
“Jormungandr.” His face going white with shock, tone revenant and fearful, as he drops to his knees, abandoning his weapon and clasping his hands in front of him... in prayer?
Hela stops before him, confused, head tilting as she looks down on him before raising her sword, reading to ram it under his collarbone and into his internals.
“Please, oh great serpent, harbinger of death, please spare my life!” He begs while shaking.
Even though confused by the man’s begging Hela remembers her father’s words. ‘Death is uncompromising, unyielding and without mercy. Do not deny your nature, my executioner.’ Features hardening Hela slashes her blade across the man’s throat, cutting off his pleas in a gurgle of blood and turns her attention to the remaining marauders.
A few of the wisest have already begun to flee, abandoning the villagers they were battling, them even frozen in shock from where they stood or lay, and Hela returns her attention to the remaining, deciding to just end this by summoning a wave of blades. Preparing herself to attack when a searing pain radiates from just above her belly button, looking down, Hela gasps in surprise as she sees the tip of a sword poking out from her stomach, the blade shining and dripping with her blood.
Her elbow jams back instinctively into her attacker’s stomach, the weight on the pommel of the blade lessening as he lets go with a grunt, the blade sliding free from its sheath inside her. Hela pivots on her heel, reaching out a clawed hand to grasp his throat, a gnawing sensation taking over her body - her power responding to her pain and she lets it. Black veins appear on Hela’s face deepening and bulging, her eyes beginning to glow the same sickly green and black as her portal from Helheim, the blue of her iris completely disappearing as she opens her mouth, as if screaming. But it is not her screams that reach her ears.
The man in her grasp is howling, blunt fingernails clawing at her hand’s iron grip around his throat, kicking his feet weakly as he ages rapidly in front of Hela’s eyes. Soon he is an old man and no longer fighting her, accepting his fate to die at her hand, and Hela’s power curls and snaps around her, drawing his life from his body and turning him into a withered husk. Hela gasps as her power then turns on her, the wound in her stomach knitting together as if it never existed and for one blissful moment Hela doesn't feel weak.
Turning with a deranged snarl on her face, Hela allows her power to guide her, lifting her hands and watching with amazement as her power rushes over the snow, ensnaring only the marauders in its grasp. Hela watching on as they are all slowly reduced to the same state of the first man, their screams of agony music to her ears, but finds herself distracted by a corpse at her feet. It is not one of the marauders, who lies dead before her, but Kari’s friend, Vestein, his green eyes frozen open in fear and pain as death took him. The sight does not sit well with Hela, a hollow feeling in her chest, her blue eyes sweeping over the bodies of the villagers; all good people who didn’t deserve to die, many of them having been slaughtered in a way that would deny them entrance to Valhalla and they certainly did not deserve Helheim.
These were her souls, Hela realises after a moment, redirecting her power as it comes rushing back to her, before she loses control of it and does something she has never done before - give life back. The bodies of the villages suddenly drawing in deep gasps of air, jerking with the force of it as life returns to them, their complexions changing from a sickly white to a healthy pink once more. It is only when her power returns to her body that the other villagers move, their body language tentative but joyful as they help their once dead friends and family to their feet, all of them staring in wonder.
Hela reabsorbs her blades, crumpling to her knees in the snow as her antlers return to their previous state, her dark hair falling around her face in a curtain as she gasps for breath, tearful as the weakness returns painfully to her body. ‘It was worth it.’ She thinks determinedly, gritting her teeth and cocking her head as the whispers reach her ears.
“She can’t be! Jormungandr doesn’t give life!”
“But she did, just look at Ari, he doesn’t have a scratch on him...The runes spoke of a world devourer but she saved us.”
“Hlif,” Kari aks tentatively from behind her, standing in her peripheral vision but hesitates to touch her. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” She mutters. “Just learning something new.” Shooting him a reassuring smile.
Kari smiles then, rubbing a hand through his hair as he offers her his hand. “Come on, I imagine Grandmother will want to see us after all that.”
As if summoning Gudrid with his words, she appears racing towards the two as fast as her old bones can carry her. “Kari!” She gasps with relief, crushing the younger in a hug, before checking him over frantically.
“I’m fine, Grandmother, really.” He assures her. “Hlif looks a bit worse for wear though.”
Gudrid quickly turns her attention to Hela then, kneeling by her side and cupping her chin. “Yer just as stubborn as you were as a little thing, Hlif.” She says fondly, embracing her too and muttering into her ear. “What did I say about doing nothing godly?” She asks, rhetorically, rubbing Hela’s back and smoothing down her hair.
“Couldn’t let them die.” Hela murmurs tiredly, relaxing into the hug and leaning against her as she returns it the best she can.
“Well yeah, but I didn’t know you could take death away.”
Hela takes a moment before answering her. “Neither did I.”
“Well, either way,” Kari begins and points to the gathering crowd. “I think Jormungandr is getting a different reputation.”
Hela turns her head to where he indicates, eyes widening in surprise as the villagers gather around them, smiles on their faces, as they sink down on their knees, lowering their heads and their backs bowing as their foreheads touch the snow. From Gudrid’s arms, Hela looks on bewildered and recalls that the Vanir have never done so before, not even to her father, when the Asgardian army laid waste to their lands and enslaved their people.
‘So this is what being loved feels like.’ Hela thinks, looking over the people, surprise colouring her expression as she realises - it’s better than being feared.
“Alright, alright, get up the lot of ya! Come on now, son, and help me get her inside.” Gudrid barks swiftly, Kari laughing as he bends to lift Hela to her feet, guiding her around the prostrating villagers who reach out to touch her reverently, murmuring their gratitude. “Do you all wanna live in drafty huts?” Gudrid addresses them, tapping her foot impatiently. “Cause they ain’t gonna fix themselves while you all are on yer knees.”
Hela turns her to look as the villagers rise, picking up their fallen tools, and begin to bustle around the smoking village, shifting charred wood and debris as they began the task of rebuilding.
“You know what this mean right, Hlif?” Kari says, expression serious and she shakes her head, expression pinched. “We’re gonna have to chop down a lot more trees.”
Hela laughs, leaning against Kari’s side as they step inside the house.
“Knew I’d make you laugh eventually.” Kari says, puffing up with pride and closes the door behind them.
“So,” Hela begins, accepting the mug of mead from Kari and taking a sip. “Who or what is Jormungandr?”
Kari takes a moment to sit down, drinking from his own mug before answering. “You apparently.” A Hela’s irritated look he amends. “Well, not you, exactly. But what I guess the Allfather wanted folk to remember you as.”
Hela grunts and drink more of her mead, tugging the blanket closer around herself. “What are you saying?” Her voice trembling slightly.
“You know I ain’t never heard of you before and neither has anyone else except Grandmother apparently.” He sighs before continuing. “All I can tell ya is that Jormungandr is taught everywhere; the story of a fallen goddess becoming a monstrous serpent lady with horns just like yours.” Kari gestures. “Basically, the idea is that Jormungandr was evil incarnate, so greedy for blood and death that she went across the nine realms, devouring everything in her path, till one day the Allfather stepped in. He battled this creature and cast it into the deepest, darkest pit of Helheim.” He pauses as Hela flinches. “Sorry, but you-”
“I know, keep going.” Hela says, clenching her teeth tight, jaw locking and tendons twitching.
“Anyway, the story is that one day this creature will break out of her prison to continue her terrible work and only the rightful king of Asgard can slay the beast, protecting the nine realms from her terrible wrath.”
Hela lets out a broken laugh. “So my father made up a prophecy to ensure that if I ever broke free everyone in the nine realms would want me dead and I wouldn’t have a friend in the world.” She sniffs and wipes at her cheeks furiously, blinking furiously before more tears can fall. “And my mother went along with it…” Hela hiccups, Kari grasping her hand and squeezing firmly.
“You don’t know that, Hlif. From what Grandmother said, your mother adored you and that you went with her practically everywhere when you were little.”
“I haven’t been that child for a long time, Kari, and I was stupid and naive to think that she would still love me after fifteen hundred years of listening to my father’s version of events. I suppose the only kindness she ever did for me in the end was stay his hand from cutting off my head.” Hela mutters, pushing the mead away from her. “If it’s alright with you I’d like to rest now.”
Kari awkwardly nods his head, not knowing what else he could possibly say to ease the pain in Hela’s heart. “Of course, just give a yell if you need anything.” He says, standing up from his chair and squeezes Hela’s shoulder before heading outside to join the others.
Hela shuffles over to her bed, slumping down on the fur mattress as she pulls the others over her head, curling up so her face is to the wall, hiding it from view and her shoulders shake as she attempts to suppress her grief. Never having imagined that something could hurt more than abandonment and erasure.
‘I’m going to kill them.’ Hela vows silently to herself, imagining the joy of tearing her bastard brothers limb from limb while their parents watched, before choking the life out of her lying, whore of a mother with her bare hands, making her monster of a father watch it all and forcing him to beg for a death she would not give him. No, she wants him to suffer with the knowledge of what he has wrought on his precious family. She will place in him the same cage as he put her, tormenting him with being able to see all that she does to his empire while he rots. Hela sighs contentedly, the brutality of her fantasies bringing her comfort as she falls asleep by the fire.
“Rise and shine, my little wolf.”
Hela mumbles and groans as she buries herself under her blankets of furs, hiding from whoever was trying to wake her up. The only warning Hela has is a melodic giggle before the covers are wrenched from her body and another is bouncing on her bed next to her, tickling her sides.
“No! No! Stop!” She laughs and squirms, opening her eyes to see long golden curls draping over her, looking up them to see the warm and loving face of her mother. “Mama please! I’ll get up!”
Frigga smiles brightly, bending down to kiss Hela’s chubby cheeks and tiny nose. “That’s my girl, come on now, let me do your hair.” She urges, scooting to the edge of the bed and sweeping the child into her arms, hugging her tightly. “Good morning, Hela.” Frigga utters softly, keeping with their routine, before sitting down with her daughter on her lap at a vanity.
“Good morning, Mama.” Hela chirps, picking up a golden hair brush and passing it back to her mother, a smile on her face as her mother begins brushing her tangled black hair. “Ow, Mama!” The little princess whines, cherubic face scrunched up in a frown as Frigga tugs on a knot.
“I am sorry, Hela, Norns you do have your father’s thick, stubborn hair.” She says with a smile.
“Daddy said I look like you, Mama.” Hela replies, swinging her bare feet.
“Oh? When was this?” Frigga asks, beginning to separate the black strands into sections for braiding.
“Yesterday, when you were at the special meeting and Nanny Gudrid took me to the gardens. Daddy came too, but he didn’t want a flower crown, I think he likes his gold one better.”
“Really, your father came with you?” The reason for the surprise on Frigga’s face is lost on the young princess.
“No, he just turned up. Then he took the flowers from me and told Gudrid to teach me something useful. But it IS useful, Mama, I’m lots better now. My flowers don’t look so sad now.”
Tying off the end of the braid, Frigga presses a kiss to the top of her daughter’s head. “That’s good, Hela, I’m glad you had fun with Gudrid.”
Hela nods. “Do you think Daddy should play more? Maybe he wouldn’t be so cranky if he played more, I could teach him.”
“That’s very sweet of you, my darling, but its best to just leave your father be, he’s a-”
“Very busy king, I know.” Hela finishes. “He’s still cranky though.”
Hoping to distract her Frigga says. “Well, why don’t we go to the gardens then? Just the two of us and you can show me how good you are with your weaving.”
Bouncing excitedly Hela wriggles from her mother’s lap, throwing on the blue dress that had been laid out for her and steps into her shoes before taking her mother’s hand. “Let’s go Mama!” She says and starts dragging the golden haired queen out of the room. Hela’s progress being aided by Frigga, once more, bending down and picking her up, carrying her in the direction of the gardens.
Some time later Hela sits in the soft green grass of her mother’s garden, tiny fingers carefully weaving the flowers she had painstakingly chosen from the various bushes and shrubs. “There!” Hela crows, standing with the crown and places it carefully on her mother’s head. “You look so pretty.” She says, her wide blue eyes shining with delight.
Frigga beams down at her, setting the crown she had been making on top of her daughter’s dark hair. “Not as pretty as you, Hela.” Her smile widening as Hela climbs onto her lap for a cuddle, her small arms wrapping around her as much as they can and the queen returns the embrace, carefully fingering the petals on her daughter’s crown. “You’re going to make a beautiful bride one day, my little wolf. I can’t wait for the day that I will braid your hair and weave it into your bridal crown.” Frigga smiles, imagining her child a grown woman; radiant in her ivory and gold gown, a blue belt around her waist, matching her eyes and the flowers in her hair.
“I love you, Mama.” Hela says, breaking Frigga out of her imaginings, as she rests her cheek against her mother’s breastbone, listening to the strong and steady heartbeat.
“I love you too, my little wolf. Never forget, Mama will always love you, no matter what.” Frigga says, petting her head gently.
“Yes Mama, I promise.” Hela murmurs contentedly, snuggling closer and holding onto her mother’s dress with her little fist.
Hela wakes up with a gasp, sitting upright as tears stream down her face, disturbed by the memory and slides shaking fingers through her loose hair. Checking herself over before hugging her arms around herself, rubbing them slowly.
‘It doesn’t matter what she said, she’s just as bad as him. She deserves what’s coming to her, they all do.’ Hela thinks to herself, shaking her head as if to clear the memory from her mind.
“Your little wolf is gone now, I will be the monster you and Father always wanted me to be and I hope for your sake that you are ready because Jormungandr is coming for you, Mother, and she will make you pay.”